Banjo players choose different tunings for various reasons – musical requirements or convenience, traditional contexts or personal choice or chance.
Switching out just one string can often be enough to switch tunings, providing a quick and easy way to explore unfamiliar keys. One such method for doing so quickly and effortlessly is the capo method.
One of the most widely-used banjo tunings is open G. This standard 5-string banjo tuning involves tuning one string (usually G) to G and all other strings down one tone (lower). Strumming just the open G string will result in what sounds like a G chord sound when played alone.
The open G tuning is widely utilized in bluegrass music and most banjos come equipped with this default tuning. While many modern bluegrass players use this tuning as their primary tuning choice, it’s worth experimenting with other genres or tunings as well.
Maintaining an in tune banjo is vitally important. With many moving parts that may loosen over time, impacting its stability as it relates to tuning. You should regularly inspect its nuts and bolts for tightness; loose nuts or bolts could affect how the tuning pegs turn, which in turn could alter how accurate its tuning accuracy may be.
Some banjo players retune their instrument for specific songs, like Earl Scruggs tuning his banjo to open D for “Reuben” and other classics by Bill Keith, while others will lower their fifth string to C on songs such as Bill Keith’s “Little Sadie.” To find your ideal tuning – that allows you to play the music you wish – is key!
Many musicians prefer tuning their banjos by ear instead of using an electronic tuner, which requires some practice but is an excellent way to learn how to identify which notes are higher or lower in pitch than another. To assist with this task, try playing our interactive banjo tuning game!
An effective way to develop ear training is to play alongside someone who plays another instrument such as guitar or fiddle. Have them perform in key and see if you can identify whether their note is higher or lower in pitch than yours – once this becomes second nature, use this knowledge to tune your own banjo without needing a tuner!
Some banjo players prefer using specific modal tunings when performing certain songs, creating haunting, lonesome tunes that sound as though they came straight from Appalachia mountain hollers. Earl Scruggs famously utilized G modal, while clawhammer tune players also enjoy using it since it allows for effortless chord changes without needing to retune the banjo as often.
To play in G modal tuning, open your banjo to its standard tuning and tune the second string down a half step to D. Then plucking together the third fret of the second string and open G string will help tune fourth string to G. To tune fifth string correctly. Follow these same steps when finding other strings tunings but always tune fifth one last; that way it will sync perfectly with others when strumming is applied to it.
Mixolydian tuning (A DF#AD), similar to banjo D tuning but featuring a flattened seventh note that creates an original tone suitable for blues and folk music genres, makes an easy transition from Open D to this tuning for clawhammer banjo players.
Sawmill tuning, another popular modal tuning option for clawhammer banjo players, sees the D string dropped down to C. This tuning gives your banjo an intense drive while making D minor chords easier to play; however, if you prefer more muted tones this may not be suitable.
Though some players prefer to settle into one tuning for life, others like to experiment with various tunings throughout their career. With so many banjo tuning options available to you, you have endless opportunities for finding your own style and sound! Tuning your banjo properly is essential whether it’s bluegrass, old-time, or any other genre; learning this skill will only help your career as an artist!
Standard Tenor banjo tuning is one of the most frequently used for five string banjos, providing a bright sound suitable for Bluegrass music. Additionally, this tuning can also be found on plectrum banjos and 5-string mandolins, featuring a drone string tuned directly below middle C (g).
This string is often played open or fretted to produce an atmospheric drone sound or play melodies; however, it should never form part of an chord and should typically not carry its melody.
If you use an electronic tuner to tune your banjo, it’s important to be mindful that these devices only show you green when the note matches its correct pitch – they do not help develop your sense of pitch or help teach what an out of tune note actually sounds like. Achieve optimal playing results requires being able to tune by both ears and electronic tuners alike!
Experience is necessary when learning to tune your banjo by ear, as the directions of rotation for different banjos and strings can differ significantly when it comes to rotating tuning pegs. Pay close attention to how and when they rotate and how much pressure is applied when rotating tuning pegs – also be familiar with pitch of some notes that correspond to what you are trying to tune for!
Tuning your banjo by ear can also make playing with others who do not share your pitch sense easier, whether this means jamming with other musicians or simply jamming solo. Tuning by ear allows you to easily recreate songs in different keys by listening for their notes on your instrument.
Tuning your banjo in fifths has another advantage – wider chord voicings provide fuller tones than when notes are closer together, which many acoustic guitar players find preferable.
Use of raised fifth tuning allows you to access a wide variety of keys with only minor retuning necessary. A capo or spikes may be used to raise the fifth string; or you could simply adjust your neck and bridge in order to accommodate for higher strings.
Banjos with raised fifths resemble the sound of guitars played in G chord, with added tones adding darkness and emotion. They can be particularly effective for certain music genres – old-time and Scruggs style players are particularly fond of using such techniques on their instruments.
When using this tuning, the first string must be tuned to E above middle C while all other strings should be tuned as D minor chords. Though less commonly seen than other alternate banjo tunings, this configuration offers an interesting tone-alternative that will create a unique sound.
This tuning is ideal if you want to experience what the original sound was all about; it works well with bluegrass and Celtic folk music as well.
Sawmill tuning, another variation on G modal tuning that’s popular among old-time and Appalachian banjo players, makes for an interesting yet haunting sound when the second string is tuned down to B. Easily switchable between standard banjo tuning and Sawmill tuning can open up new emotional possibilities for banjo players.
The third variation on raised fifth tuning is double augmented fifth tuning, whereby one fifth string is tuned an octave higher from its normal pitch. This makes bending harder but provides an interesting sound which may prove effective in certain musical situations.
Some banjoists also employ double diminished fourth tunings, in which the sixth string is tuned down an octave from its regular pitch. Although difficult to adjust to, such tuning can produce an eerie and mysterious tone which can be useful in certain musical contexts.
To keep their fifth strings tuned properly, most banjos require either a capo or spikes that are installed on the head of their instrument. Spikes may be placed so their hook faces either toward the fifth string side of the fingerboard, though many players and luthiers prefer placing their hooks facing towards fifth string side instead of first string side of fingerboard – it all comes down to personal preference!